Friday, February 6, 2009

Teaching Forgiveness, too

It's been a rough week around here. It wouldn't take much reading between the lines to realize that LilBro and I have been tussling a bit this week. But I am not the only one who's been tussling with him; LilBro's been fighting with his sibs all week, too.

The other day while I was making lunch, Princess came to me in tears. She had hurt LilBro "by mistake" when she'd done something or other. She had apologized to him, but he'd responded by yelling, "No, you're NOT sorry, and I'll be mad at you FOREVER." Princess looked up at me miserably, "But I really am sorry, Mama, and I just want to be friends again."

I called LilBro over, listened to his hurts, filled him up with sympathy and hugs. Then I asked him if Princess had apologized. He nodded. I asked him if he thought Princess felt bad about hurting him. He nodded. I told him that he needed to forgive her. He said, "Ok, Mama" and ran off to hug his sister.

And I started thinking about how I've mostly missed this lesson. I've taken the time to teach the children to apologize when they've wronged someone. I've taught them that they need to take a deep breath and apologize with a sincere voice (not a mean or snotty voice). I've taught them to make eye contact, and -- where appropriate -- offer a hug, a toy, or some sort of consolation to the victim. But I haven't taught them how to forgive someone who's wronged them.

This is a really important lesson, and I've been thinking about it all week. How could I have missed this? How have I taught them to take responsibility for their actions and apologize, but not to take responsibility for their actions and forgive?

When I was growing up, I was taught to apologize, but I don't recall any lesson on forgiving. It was enough that someone say (even grudgingly), "sorry." The only response I ever recall was either "that's ok" or "c'mon, let's go play." Neither of which really addresses the issue of forgiveness. When I was a new parent, I read parenting books incessantly, and occasionally came across the school of thought that "forcing kids to apologize" was wrong. I dismissed that idea immediately, and always required my kids to apologize. I figured that learning how to apologize properly was no different than learning how to use the toilet or how to tie shoes... there would be some failures along the way, but actually having to do it was the only way to learn.

The same theory applies to forgiveness. I need to make forgiveness a lesson that is taught daily in our home, even if that means it gets done sloppily or grudgingly at times. I hope that teaching the kids to forgive will help me to become better at it, to hold fewer grudges, to let go of nursed hurts. To see that it really is in forgiving where we are forgiven.

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